When your mother and your father are having a fight, do you want them to kill each other? Or do you just want them to stop fighting?See Important Quotations Explained
An unnamed interrogator questions Papa at Fort Lincoln, North Dakota. The interrogator asks if he has had contact with his uncle, who is a general in Japan, but Papa says he has not. He adds that he has never returned to Japan because he is a black sheep in his family. The interrogator asks for the names of Papa’s ten children, and Papa names all but Jeanne, saying there are too many to remember. The interrogator accuses him of supplying oil to a Japanese submarine off the coast of California, but Papa says only a foolish commander would voyage so far from his fleet. The interrogator shows him a photograph and asks what was in the two fifty-gallon drums seen on the deck of the Wakatsuki’s boat. Papa answers that it was fish guts to attract mackerel into the nets. The interrogator asks him what he thinks of the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the American military. Papa replies that he is sad for both countries but that he is sure the Americans will win because they are bigger and richer, and Japan’s leaders are stupid. He says he weeps every night for his country. The interrogator asks if he still feels loyalty to the Japanese emperor, but Papa counters by asking the interrogator’s age. Papa laments that though he has been living in the United States nine years longer than the twenty-nine-year-old interrogator, he is prevented from becoming a citizen. The interrogator again asks Papa who he wants to win the war. Papa responds by asking the interrogator whether, if his mother and father were fighting, he would want them to kill each other or to just stop fighting.
Papa moves into the crowded barracks with Mama and Jeanne, and does not go outside for what seems like months. Mama brings him meals from the mess halls, and he makes rice wine and brandy with extra portions of rice and canned fruit. He spends day after day getting drunk, cursing, and vomiting, and wakes up every morning moaning. Jeanne believes Papa never goes out because he feels superior to the others, but in the latrine one day she overhears some Terminal Island women whispering about Papa and using the word “inu.” Inu literally means “dog” but can also refer to collaborators and informers. The women call Papa “inu” because he was released from Fort Lincoln earlier than the other men and is rumored to have bought his release by informing on the others.
When Mama reports the incident to Papa, he flies into a rage, cursing her for disappearing, not bringing him his food on time, and helping to spread the rumors that keep him inside the barracks all day. He threatens to kill her. Mama encourages him to strike, but when Papa raises his cane, Kiyo emerges from the bed where he has been hiding and punches Papa in the face. Papa stares at him in rage and admiration, but Kiyo runs out the door. Jeanne is proud of Kiyo but feels that everything is collapsing around her. Kiyo hides at an older sister’s room for two weeks before coming to ask Papa’s forgiveness. Papa accepts his apology, but Jeanne’s sense of loss grows deeper as Papa continues to get drunk and abuse Mama.
“Fort Lincoln: An Interview” is the first of three semifictional chapters that Wakatsuki uses to discuss events in her family members’ lives that relate directly to the larger themes of her own experience. Farewell to Manzanar is primarily nonfiction, but it often includes fictional or altered details to develop its themes. Wakatsuki addresses what happened to Papa at Fort Lincoln because his struggle with being both Japanese and American mirrors her own struggle to define herself after leaving Manzanar. In later chapters, Wakatsuki admits that her father only ever uttered three or four sentences about Fort Lincoln, but she does not reveal this detail to us until after we have read the interview between Papa and the interrogator as true, word for word. This minor deception, combined with the chapter’s inclusion of many biographical details found in “Whatever He Did Had Flourish,” makes us forget that Wakatsuki cannot possibly be giving a wholly accurate report of her father’s experience. Despite its fictional nature, “Fort Lincoln: An Interview” underscores the truths that Wakatsuki exposes throughout the work about ethnic prejudice and the difficulty of understanding one’s identity.
This fictionalized interview gives us a very real and immediate sense of Papa’s and the other Issei men’s struggles with the impossibility of being loyal to two conflicting nations. This struggle is apparent throughout the interview, as Papa evades the interrogator’s questions about his family and background. His comment that “I weep every night for my country” is ambiguous, as it is not clear whether he is referring to Japan or America. Japan is his country of birth, but America is his country of choice; in his responses he cannot commit to one side or the other because his attachments to the two, though different in nature, are equally strong. His comparison of the war between Japan and America to a quarrel between parents reveals how personal the war is to Papa. Like many Japanese Americans, he is unable to favor one country over the other, because doing so would mean rejecting either his heritage or his dream for economic and social success.
“Inu” explores Papa’s metaphor for the war between Japan and the United States as a fight between parents by looking at a real domestic dispute between Papa and Mama. Their fight is completely irrational, as Papa attacks Mama about gossip and rumors for which she is not responsible. Similarly, the war between Japan and America is an irrational byproduct of conquests and alliances taking place thousands of miles away in Europe. The children can only watch in horror as Mama invites Papa’s violence, and Papa raises his cane to strike her because he is too proud to back down. Kiyo, representing the Japanese Americans who watched the war break out between their mother and father countries, strikes Papa because he “just want[s] them to stop fighting.” In this way, this fight is different from the metaphorical fight between parents that Papa describes. Whereas Kiyo intervenes and cools the conflict between his parents, the Japanese Americans are unable to take action and must ultimately watch their parent countries devastate each other.